This is as border authorities prepare to make possible policy changes that could increase their processing time.
The March 25 notification states that U.S. agents will start to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to migrants held in Customs and Border Protection (CBP), custody. This is for those who are subject to regular immigration procedures and don't have proof of vaccination.
The vaccine program, scheduled to begin Monday, won't apply to expelled persons under the pandemic-era emergency policy Title 42, currently under legal scrutiny.
According to congressional notification, the vaccination efforts will begin at 11 locations near the southern border and then expand to 16 more sites by April 8. Officials hope to distribute 2,700 vaccines daily during the first phase. Officials expect to be able vaccinate as many as 6,000 migrants per day by the end of May after expanding to phase 2. Phase 2 is scheduled to start on April 18.
Prior to Monday's announcement, only COVID-19 was offered by the U.S. to immigrant detained in long-term Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers and children of migrant families in federal shelter systems. There were also fewer than 2000 asylum-seekers who enrolled in a program that will require them to wait for their Mexican court hearings.
Eduardo Maia Silva, spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), confirmed that expanded vaccinations are being carried out and called it "a best practice in public health."
He stated that DHS was expanding its efforts to safeguard public health and protect the safety of migrants, border communities, and the workforce. DHS requires that all noncitizens who are taken into CBP custody for further processing at the Southwest land frontier be given the age-appropriate COVID-19 vaccinations.
Since at least the summer of 2021, the Biden administration has considered offering COVID-19 vaccinations to migrants crossing the southern border. Officials proposed that all adults in families be vaccinated as a way of ending Title 42, according to , an internal DHS plan, obtained by CBS News.
According to multiple sources, top White House officials including Susan Rice, domestic policy advisor, feared that unravelling Title 42 would increase political pressure on the administration in the face of record border arrivals. This would encourage more migrants north.
According to an internal DHS document, officials stated that offering vaccines to migrants at the time could help them cross the border without authorization.
CNN first reported the vaccination policy change. U.S border officials are awaiting an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on whether they will modify, terminate, or continue the Title 42 expulsion policy that was first enacted in March 2020 by Trump's administration.
Title 42 allows U.S. border officers to quickly expel migrants to Mexico and their native countries. This bypasses immigration laws that require officials interview asylum-seekers to determine if they have valid claims.
According to CBP figures, the U.S. has expelled 1.7 million people under Title 42. This is more than 70% of all expulsions made under President Biden. The Biden administration has not expelled unaccompanied children, and has seen a record number of migrants arrive in the last year.
According to the Biden administration, Title 42 is necessary to prevent migrants from crowding temporary border facilities that could allow the coronavirus to rapidly spread. However, the Biden administration could be forced to modify or end the policy by a ruling this month.
A Washington, D.C. federal appeals court order will be upheld. It will direct border officials to interview families of migrants traveling with their children next month before they expel them. This is to make sure that they aren't fleeing persecution and torture, or stop processing this population under Title 42, which was the plan last summer.
The CDC stated earlier this month that Dr. Rochelle Walsky, its director, would decide Wednesday, March 30, whether to continue expulsions of migrant families under Title 42.
Walensky issued an Order to Rescind her Title 42 directives pertaining to unaccompanied minors in response to a Texas federal judge's ruling.
Walensky mentioned improved pandemic conditions and rising vaccination rates in the U.S. as well as in migrants' home country, along with other mitigation protocols. She stated that migrant children are offered COVID-19 testing and vaccinations while they are in the U.S. shelter systems.